Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review of House of the Stag

I actually read this one a couple of books ago, so my memories of it are fading, but I have been mulling over what to say about it. On the whole, I liked it. It surprised me. In fantasy, that's hard to do...the story lines are pretty well established, and most folks don't deviate much.

I wasn't expecting to like it, though. The beginning describes the protagonist's early years among a primitive people, and I was rolling my eyes as I read. Aside from Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequels, which are a guilty pleasure, I don't read much "prehistoric" fiction--I find that it's usually pretty trite and can't hold my interest for very long. I guess I'm an elitist for my imaginary friends--I want them to be smart and cultured and have witty conversation. Or something. Anyway, my interest picked up as Gard (the protagonist) grew up into a different type of person than the villagers who raised him. He is cast out for inadvertently causing the death of his foster brother, and it is revealed that Gard is half-demon. His foster mother curses him to a long life in exile, and this is the narrative device the author uses to show Gard's evolution from a simple villager to a trained fighter, mage, and strategist. Underneath it all, he retains a core of innocence, which makes him a likable character even as he tries to cultivate an aura of darkness to keep enemies far away from him.

Eventually he meets a woman who captures his heart (in a non-coincidence, she is the spiritual leader of the people who cast him out) and he marries her and has a son. The end, which is built up as an invasion of his fortress by a neighboring army, ends in a non-battle because the army doesn't get in, except for one mage and her guard. They are quickly dispatched and everyone lives happily ever after, even the demons and freaks that make up Gard's retinue.

Typically I would protest such a seemingly fast and underwhelming ending to a story. Don't even get me started on how The Historian ended. A whole novel that dragged on for hundreds of pages, with a resolution in one, maybe two pages! Such a disappointment. But this time...I didn't mind. And I think it was because the author had not ended it that way because she lacked the talent to create a different ending. She ended it that way because it was unexpected. She gauged, rightly, that the core of the conflict was the mage, and that the army was ultimately unimportant. The ending surprised me and left me wondering how I felt about it, which I've come to realize means that I think I liked it! She seems like an author that is willing to take risks.

The tone of the book reminded me somewhat of David Eddings and somewhat of Sheri Tepper, although not derivative.

I think I will check out Baker's first novel, which is set in the same world. I would recommend her.

No comments: